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Second-Hand: 2003-2006 Hyundai Accent

With the demise of Lada in Canada and Yugo in the U.S., the South Korean conglomerate got to lord over the basement of the automotive market around here.

Why do Hyundais have heated rear windows?

To keep your hands warm when you’re pushing them.

It’s zingers like this one that keep talkshow host Jay Leno at the top of the ratings, much to the chagrin of Hyundai, of course.

With the demise of Lada in Canada and Yugo in the U.S., the South Korean conglomerate got to lord over the basement of the automotive market around here.

It embraced a good strategy: sell enough entry-level vehicles to young graduates, and they may return to buy a mid-size sedan or SUV when their budget improves.

This was the thinking behind the Hyundai Accent, a basic two-door hatchback and four-door sedan that used to be the butt of jokes. But, don’t forget, 35 years ago the object of public ridicule was another overseas maker called Toyota.

CONFIGURATION

Redesigned and slightly bigger for 2000, the front-wheel-drive Accent benefited from a wheelbase stretch of 4 cm and a width increase of 5 cm. Thanks to some fortification – including reinforced A- and B-pillars – the new car was 90 kg heavier to better protect its penny-pinching occupants.

In addition to more safety features, the second-generation Accent was quieter and more refined, thanks to double door seals, among other improvements.

Inside, head, leg and hip room were marginally improved and all Accents got a 60/40-split fold rear seat. The contemporary instrument panel and gauges would not have looked out of place in a Honda, while tinted glass and a five-way adjustable seat were standard on all but the base model.

Oh, and a heated rear window, naturally.

A SOHC 1.5-L four-cylinder engine produced 92 hp working through a five-speed manual transmission. The optional four-speed automatic featured Hyundai’s Adaptive Logic, which limited unnecessary gear changes on grades or while decelerating.

Non-base-model Accents graduated to a bigger engine in 2001 in the form of an iron-block, twin-cam 1.6-L motor that produced – wait for it – 104 hp.

The Accent earned a mild facelift with revised front and rear styling for 2003, while the base hatchback got the same DOHC 1.6-L four propelling the other models.

New also was the GT package that included stiffer springs, larger alloy wheels and tires, whiteface gauges, upgraded upholstery, body-colour rocker-panel skirts and a rear winglet. No extra horsepower resided under the hood, unfortunately.

The next-generation Accent for 2006 was a game changer for the brand.

Acknowledging that even subcompacts can evolve into upscale conveyances, the Accent had jettisoned its frumpy styling for clean European lines. The new model was 4 cm longer, 8 cm taller, and rode on a 6 cm longer wheelbase.

Initially offered only as a four-door sedan (the old hatchback was sold a little longer), the Accent shared its platform with the front-wheel-drive Kia Rio, but differed in styling, equipment mix and pricing.

Thanks to variable valve timing, the 1.6-L engine gained six horses for a total of 110 (torque remained unchanged at 106 lb.-ft.). Newly standard were front side airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags and antilock brakes.

ON THE ROAD

As a basic transportation appliance, the Accent was able to acquit itself well. Zero to 96 km/h came up in 10 seconds flat with the manual transmission or a little over 11 seconds with the automatic.

Short gearing helped the subcompact keep up with traffic, though that became a liability on the open road. “This is a really loud car when driven at highway speeds,” posted the owner of an ’07 model. “The engine spins at 3500 to 4000 r.p.m. at these speeds and makes sure you know it.”

It also hurt fuel economy. Lots of owners expressed dismay at the car’s propensity to guzzle, relatively speaking, especially automatics.

On the other hand, the Accent gave a reasonably smooth ride. Korean cars are generally soft-sprung, though they tend to get a little bouncy when the going gets rough.

In a magazine road test of seven econoboxes, a 2006 Accent ranked fifth, losing points for its rope-a-dope manual shifter and undisciplined suspension. Interestingly, the Kia Rio5 finished third, riding on essentially the same platform.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Having gone in with less than lofty expectations, Accent owners have generally been pleased.

“A pleasant surprise,” is a common synopsis owners give of their experience. They like the car’s comfy ride, tidy dimensions and features for the price.

Earlier models, up to 2002, did have some troublesome transmissions, both automatic and manual.

In some instances the automatics failed at 140,000 to 160,000 km, requiring a rebuild. Others reportedly required just a new pulse generator.

Manual gearboxes failed at a relatively young age – as little as 35,000 km – often requiring a new clutch and pressure plate. Dealers invariably blamed the driver for riding the clutch but the cause is suspect.

The transmissions appear to be more robust in newer models.

Another concern is the timing belt snapping too early. One owner reported a failure at 70,000 km. Have the belt inspected for wear, regardless of mileage.

Other gripes include errant Check Engine lights, exhaust leaks, rattles and faulty power window actuators.

Accents are cute, but they still make better new cars than they do used ones.

WHAT’S BEST: palpable refinement, cushy ride, slick styling (’06 and up)

WHAT’S WORST: joyless manual shifter, lumpy styling (’05 or older), transmission woes

TYPICAL GTA PRICES:

2003 – $7,000; 2006 – $11,000

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Chevrolet Optra, Acura TSX and Saab 9-5. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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